The Sydney Icebeg (April Fools’ Day – 1978)

On the morning of April 1, 1978, a barge appeared in Sydney Harbor towing a giant iceberg. Sydneysiders were expecting it. Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman, had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded.

Smith said that he was going to moor the iceberg near the Sydney Opera House and then carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-travelled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavour of any drink they cooled. The cubes would be marketed under the brand name ‘Dicksicles.’

As soon as the iceberg entered the harbor, phone calls started pouring into radio stations and newspapers, with people asking, “What’s that in the harbor? It looks like an iceberg.” Ferry skippers politely gave way for the slow-moving curiosity — christened the Dickenberg 1.

Excitedly the entire city waited to catch a glimpse of the floating mountain of ice. People gathered along the shore to see it. Boaters who travelled out to meet the berg were given complimentary cubes.

Then it began to rain.

The water washed away the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the iceberg was really made of, exposing the white plastic sheets beneath. In this degraded condition the Sydney Iceberg sailed proudly on, floating past the opera house and city skyline. Boaters who now joined the procession were still given free cubes… though the cubes actually came from the on-board beer refrigerator.

Pulling off the Prank

Dick Smith really did have a dream of towing an iceberg from Antarctica to Australia. He thought it would be a great way to provide fresh water for cities such as Adelaide. But most people told him it was a crazy idea. So one of his staff members suggested, “Why not just fake one for April Fools’ Day?”

Smith loved the idea.

In mid-March, he anchored a barge at Balmain wharf, outside Sydney Harbor. Then, on the morning of the 1st, at 3 am, Smith and his collaborators (including Gary Johnston, Gerry O’Nolan, and Hans Tholstrup) began transforming the barge into an iceberg. This involved plastic sheets, several dozen cans of shaving cream, and lots of fire-fighting foam. Two hours later, they began towing the berg toward the harbor.

View of “iceberg” from the barge

As dawn broke, Smith seeded the excitement by having 300 of his employees call up radio stations and newspapers, claiming to have spotted the iceberg in the harbor.

Aiding the deception was the weather, which was grey and gloomy, so that from the shore the floating mound of foam really did look like an iceberg. Until it rained.

Smith estimated that the entire stunt cost him $1450, which he felt was cheap for the amount of publicity it generated.

Smith later told the press that he still did want to tow an iceberg up from Antarctica for real: “I’m still genuine about that and will be doing it soon, but so many people doubt me, I thought I would fool them. I just do these things for kicks. It takes the boredom out of everyday work.

Metric Time (April Fools’ Day – 1975)

Australia’s This Day Tonight revealed that the country would soon be converting to “metric time.” Under the new system there would be 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour, and 20-hour days. Furthermore, seconds would become millidays, minutes become centidays, and hours become decidays.

Metric Clock Face

The report included an interview with Deputy Premier Des Corcoran who (participating in the prank) praised the new time system. The Adelaide town hall was shown sporting a new 10-hour metric clock face.  

The show received numerous calls from viewers who fell for the hoax. One caller wanted to know how he could convert his newly purchased digital clock to metric time.

Left-Handed Allen Kay (April Fools’ Day – 2012)

IKEA ran an ad in Australian papers apologising to customers who had received left-handed allen keys with a product. “To exchange your incorrect key,” the ad said, “we’ll provide a swap box at the store entrance.”

The ad showed the difference between an “erroneous left-handed allen key” and a “correct right-handed allen key.”


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